TSA Agent Pulls On Indigenous Activist’s Braids

When Tara Houska, a climate change and indigenous rights activist,  was traveling through Minneapolis-St

Photo: Unsplash/@aliixar

Photo: Unsplash/@aliixar

When Tara Houska, a climate change and indigenous rights activist,  was traveling through Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport to return home to Bemidji, Minnesota, she said that a TSA agent pulled her braids behind her shoulders and said “giddy up,” using them like reins. She then tweeted about the response, writing: “My hair is part of my spirit. I am a Native woman. I am angry, humiliated. Your “fun” hurt.”

She then tweeted that she informed the TSA agent what she’d done was disrespectful and she then apologized but it was not enough. “When I informed the middle-aged blonde woman who had casually used her authority to dehumanize and disrespect me, she said “Well it was just in fun, I’m sorry. Your hair is lovely.” <— that is NOT an apology and it is NOT okay,” she tweeted.

In an interview with KARE 11, Houska added: “But it was very offensive. She was laughing as I walked away. It’s TSA, and so it’s invasive no matter what — it’s their job to sometimes pat you down, and it’s part of safety, and I get that, I frequently fly through the airport. That said, it was dehumanizing and just really disrespectful. It was kind of humiliating, to be honest, as a person but also as an indigenous person.”

Houska, who is Ojibwe, an Anishinaabe people of Canada and the northern Midwest in the U.S., had attended a climate protest at the Capitol as part of Jane Fonda’s “Fire Drill Friday” climate change demonstration.

“Coming back from a situation where I’m demonstrating about indigenous rights, then coming back through and experiencing something like that? Yes, those are two different things, but they’re also all connected. All these little microaggressions add up, and we should be treating each other with respect across the board” she said to KARE 11.

After she tweeted about the incident,  TSA’s federal security director for Minnesota, Cliff Van Leuven, called her to apologize on behalf of the administration and the employee. TSA also issued a separate statement, saying, “TSA holds its employees to the highest standards of professional conduct and any type of improper behavior is taken seriously.”

Van Leuven then told KARE 11 that “we’ll take the chance to continue to educate our staff” about indigenous communities to avoid this ignorant behavior in the future.  Houska, who works as an attorney, then tweeted in response saying, “My braids are not reins, I should be treated with dignity, as should everyone else. Good resolution from a bad situation. We need more education & empathy for one another.”

Indigenous communities are no strangers to demeaning and ignorant behavior but this is not only offensive on a cultural level, it’s also just downright rude especially from one woman to another. It’s indicative of not only the agent’s ignorance but a blatant misuse of her position, a power play that, like Houska mentioned, may seem like a small gesture but carries hefty weight. While the local TSA will reportedly use this as a teaching moment, it’s undoubtedly going to continue until the nation as a whole has a better understanding and respect for indigenous communities.

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